Genetic Profiling in Disaster Victim Identification


About 30 years ago, Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys described the first deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)‐profiling technique, and genetic profiling was soon implemented for immigration cases, paternity investigations and crime casework. Today, the methods have evolved from the original ‘DNA fingerprints’, to ‘DNA profiling’, which have been adopted as a standard procedure for human identification. New technological innovations, such as next‐generation sequencing, continue to improve the methods to be more efficient, such as throughput. In the disaster victim identification (DVI) context, DNA profiling is one of the primary tools in the aftermath of massive catastrophes and an important part in the process in repatriation of victims to their relatives. The first time DNA profiling was effectively used in a DVI process, was in 1990 in the identification of the victims of the fire on the Norwegian ferry ‘Scandinavian Star’. Since then, DNA profiling has been a mainstay in DVI work, and in some situations the method has proven to be the only doable method for victim identification.

Key Concepts:

  • Genetic profiling is a primary tool for identification of disaster victims.

  • A common ante‐mortem (AM) sample is often samples collected from a close relative(s) of the missing person.

  • Postmortem (PM) samples are appropriate tissue samples collected from the dead body or body part.

  • Potential contamination should be minimised during all processes.

  • AM samples and PM samples are analysed with the same genetic markers.

  • STR markers are at present the most widely used markers for genetic profiling for DVI.

  • A Bayesian approach regarding statistics (use of prior odds combined with genetic data) when evaluating associations between AM and PM genetic data, allows for an assessment of the strength of the alleged relationship in the identification process.

Keywords: disaster victim identification; genetic profiling; FTA‐cards; next‐generation sequencing; short tandem repeats; single nucleotide polymorphism; autosomal markers; Y‐chromosomal markers; X‐chromosomal markers; mitochondrial mtDNA‐markers; ante‐mortem samples; postmortem samples

Figure 1.

The picture shows a FTA‐card indicating a change in colour where the buccal cells are applicated. The two punches are samples extracted from the card for further analysis.

Figure 2.

Shows screen with an ongoing analysis of DNA profiles from 15 individual samples and one reference sample.

Figure 3.

Two principles of NGS. (a) Fragments of a shot‐gun library are ligated to adaptors and amplified together with microscopic beads prepared with an adaptor sequence. A low template emulsion will result in many beads with a single DNA molecule on each bead as template and amplicons will show in a monoclonal fashion. (b) DNA fragments of a library and with adaptors are ligated to a solid substrate at the 5′ end. Adaptors on the solid substrate will attract the 3′ end of the fragments to amplify products as bridges. Adjacent adaptors will attract to multiply fragments in a mono‐clonal way. Adapted from Shendure and Hanlee (). © Nature Publishing Group.



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Interpol Tsunami Evaluation Working Group, The DVI response to the South East Asian Tsunami Between December 2004 and February 2006

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Montelius, Kerstin, Stenersen, Marguerethe, and Sajantila, Antti(Jul 2014) Genetic Profiling in Disaster Victim Identification. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0024394]